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Penn State's game with Alabama has local Tide fans abuzz

Billy Penn may not be whistlin' Dixie yet. But from his perch atop City Hall, the Keystone State's first fan is undoubtedly getting used to hearing chants of "Roll Tide!" emanating from the streets below.

Billy Penn may not be whistlin' Dixie yet.

But from his perch atop City Hall, the Keystone State's first fan is undoubtedly getting used to hearing chants of "Roll Tide!" emanating from the streets below.

Tavern on Broad, at the intersection of Broad and Walnut Streets, hosts weekly football viewing parties for Alabama Alumni/Fans in Philadelphia, a second-year booster club with more than 150 members.

Group founder Jill Breslin, a 1999 Alabama graduate and tennis coach at Bryn Mawr College, promises the place will be rockin' on Saturday when her beloved Crimson Tide invade Happy Valley to take on Penn State.

"People are so into football, not just alumni but also fans and friends of the university," she said. "We have 700 alums within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia, and I've tried to reach out to as many people as possible. We just need to keep up our efforts to grow the chapter."

Breslin's passion does not come from being born a Southern Belle.

After winning the 1995 NJSIAA state singles championship at Holy Spirit High in Absecon, Breslin went on to become a three-time all-SEC scholar athlete and was twice named Alabama's team MVP.

After a brief yet very successful stint as Temple's tennis coach, Breslin left for a faculty/coaching position at Bryn Mawr. But every now and then, she yearns for a bit of the Southern comfort she felt at 'Bama.

"I look back on my college years, and, because of the effort I put into tennis, I can't believe I wasn't more involved in the football games," Breslin said. "When I graduated I became more of a fan, I think, because I really missed the South. I just loved the lifestyle down there."

That deep-seated interest actually led Breslin to look north - to the Greater New York Chapter of the University of Alabama Alumni Association. The group boasts 1,780 members out of a pool of 6,000 alumni and university friends in the New York/Connecticut/North Jersey region and typically draws almost 600 fans to weekly football viewing parties at two sports bars in Manhattan.

"I was going up to New York to watch the games, and then last year I thought: 'Why don't I try to do something in Philly?' " Breslin said. "I scouted out a few bars in the area that I knew catered to other alumni groups, and wound up at Tavern on Broad. The national alumni association sent us some signage, and even the management at the bar has gotten more involved."

Breslin, who named her dog Bama, may have at least one opposing fan to deal with at the party this week. Her boyfriend, Brian Burns, graduated from Penn State in 1999.

"He said he's been to Giants Stadium for Eagles games, so he can handle watching a Penn State game at a bar in Philadelphia with 'Bama fans," she said with a chuckle.

The Greater New York chapter has a five-bus caravan, carrying more than 200 Alabama fans from a dozen states (including California), headed out to State College on Saturday.

The Philadelphia group didn't have the resources to pull off an excursion that big, but Breslin is proud to point out that dozens of local members are making the trip.

Nicholas Wright, a 1995 grad who lives in Wayne, rented an RV to take his wife, Gail, and their three daughters up to Beaver Stadium.

"I was a walk-on [defensive end] under [coach] Gene Stallings in the early '90s until I hurt my knee," Wright said. "I never got to play, but just practicing in that environment was a dream come true for me."

Adam Murphy, a 2010 Alabama grad now studying law at Drexel, is catching a ride with his former college roommate for a more economic pilgrimage to Penn State.

"We bought tickets on eBay for $145 apiece, and we will most likely be sleeping in his car because we don't want to pay $500 for a hotel," Murphy said.

"Overall, it is an expensive trip, but I am a huge Alabama fan. My senior year coincided with our national championship, and once I left Tuscaloosa I became a bigger fan because I never get to see games [in person].

"But I have managed to teach most of my law school friends to say 'Roll Tide!' "